You’ve probably heard of psoriasis — nearly 8 million people in the United States alone suffer from it. But did you know there are different types? Perhaps one of the least known is a form known as guttate psoriasis, named for the distinct teardrop-shaped lesions that it causes, as “gutta” is Latin for “drop.” While guttate psoriasis makes up a very small percentage of psoriasis cases, its presentation and symptoms are no less troubling. (Source)
So, what exactly is guttate psoriasis? What causes it, and can you prevent it? If you have it, how do you treat it? Are there lifestyle modifications that can stop it from recurring? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more!
What Is Guttate Psoriasis?
Psoriasis, including guttate psoriasis, is classified as an autoimmune disease, which develops when the body’s immune system mounts an attack on its own healthy tissues. It’s this attack that results in the symptoms of the disease. Experts still aren’t exactly sure what causes this to happen, but it’s becoming clear that it’s a complex interplay between genetics, environment — both internal and external, including diet, stress, and infections — and other health factors, such as an overactive immune system.
In the case of psoriasis, the skin bears the brunt of the attack, although depending on the type of psoriasis other organs and joints may be involved as well.
It normally takes new, healthy skin cells about a month from the time they’re formed at the bottom of the epidermis to migrate to the skin’s surface, where they replace older, dead skin cells. This process of new skin cells replacing old is called cell turnover. When someone is suffering from psoriasis, an overactive immune response accelerates this process to a matter of several days. The body can’t handle the excess amount of skin cells being produced, so thickened, scaly patches of skin — called plaques — result from the buildup.
Guttate psoriasis is a rare form of psoriasis that most commonly appears in young people (children, teens, and young adults under 30) without warning, often after an illness. Unlike many other autoimmune conditions, guttate psoriasis appears to affect both genders equally. And as with all other forms of psoriasis, guttate psoriasis is not contagious and can’t be spread to others. (Source, Source, Source)
Causes of Guttate Psoriasis
Different things trigger psoriasis for different people. In the case of guttate psoriasis, a bacterial or viral infection often precedes its onset, most commonly an infection with a group A Streptococcus bacterium, such as strep throat, or an upper respiratory infection. Although rare, cases of guttate psoriasis have also been reported after a COVID-19 infection, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In these cases, guttate psoriasis often appears 1 or 2 weeks after illness onset. This type of presentation is known as acute guttate psoriasis. Acute occurrences often resolve within a few weeks and may never come back.
Guttate psoriasis may also appear in people with existing chronic plaque psoriasis, resulting in a “guttate flare” on top of the chronic psoriatic condition. It’s also possible for guttate psoriasis to progress into chronic plaque psoriasis, which can then morph into other forms of the skin condition. That happens in around one third of patients. It’s unclear what causes it to completely clear up in some people, yet turn chronic in others.
In addition to infections, the following can sometimes also trigger this rare form of psoriasis:
- skin wounds resulting from insect bites, cuts, or burns
- excessive amounts of alcohol or stress
- certain medications, including TNF-alpha inhibitors, beta blockers, lithium, and antimalarial drugs
Guttate psoriasis can also be genetic, meaning if one of your parents or someone in your family has it, you’re more likely to suffer from it as well. People with weakened immune systems may also be more susceptible to all types of psoriasis. (Source, Source, Source)
Symptoms of Guttate Psoriasis
Guttate psoriasis often catches people by surprise, appearing without warning. Thankfully, in many cases, it disappears just as mysteriously as it appeared, usually within several weeks of onset.
The telltale, teardrop-shaped skin lesions of guttate psoriasis are typically small (10 mm wide or less), round spots that are pinkish-red in color. They often appear on the arms and legs, but can also show up on the scalp, face, or ears, too. The bumps are usually raised and scaly, and might itch.
People with this form of psoriasis may have only a few skin lesions, or may have over 100 that cover large amounts of their body. The lesions are well-defined, however, meaning even if they’re numerous they maintain borders, and healthy skin can be seen between the spots.
Because guttate psoriasis is often self-limiting, unless it develops into a chronic condition it doesn’t progress in stages as other forms of psoriasis can. (Source, Source)